Every Month DUMDUMBOY Offers His Own Unique Perspective On a Major Movie Release.
No longer the right side of 50, my relationship with 007 dates back to the early seventies. At the Sutton Coldfield Odeon (my local as a child and a wonderful piece of Art Deco architecture) the Bond movies were shown as double-bills. The brand new film was twinned with the previous release, so ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ was released with ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ as the support feature. Two different Bonds – Double O Heaven!
It was here, in the smoky auditorium (yes, back in the day you could smoke in this cinema, but only on the right hand side of the auditorium – a decision as baffling as Bond knowing to pack rubber suctions on his trip up to a volcano in ‘You Only Live Twice’!) that I first heard this word uttered. And, ironically, for the last time too.
Upstairs in my music room, there’s a bookcase. On it sits my collection of movie tie-in paperbacks. Less common now, but back in the distant past most publishers cashed in on any movie’s success with a re-printed edition with covers and backs featuring imagery from the actual film. Some (like the Star Wars trilogy) even added an additional section of stills from the movie in the middle, nice touch.
But pride of place within this bookcase are the James Bond movie tie-in paperbacks. Pristine they may not be – all read at least thrice – but precious they remain. They’re positioned in the order of the movies, figured I should do that as they’re the tie-ins(1).
So, sitting third in line is the book where this word began. The word that changed (and changes) everything.
In my well-thumbed Pan paperback copy of the ‘Thunderball’ movie tie-in edition (published in 1965) this word first appears, in print, as the chapter 5 heading on page 44. A simple acronym. SPECTRE. At the very end of chapter 5, the genuinely sinister reduction elaborates into: Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. Quite a mouthful (as Bond might say). 007’s first introduction to the organisation is not until the end of chapter 7, when called to M’s Whitehall office to be shown an alarming letter (contained within an envelope marked: ‘PERSONAL AND MOST IMMEDIATE.’) M calls them by name at the start of chapter 8. Finally, on page 75, James Bond says their name out loud for the very first time.
Fast forward to the 4th of December 2014. Eon Productions announced that ‘Bond 24’ was to be called ‘SPECTRE’. This heart skipped a beat. For me personally, James Bond was coming home.
‘Casino Royale’ had already signalled a return to the Bond I knew from the books. It was a wise move and a necessary one. Gone was the quippery which, although less evident than the heyday of Roger Moore’s tenure as 007, was still threatening to move the series to the edge of parody. In it’s place, Daniel Craig restored the brutal cynicism last evident in Sean Connery’s finest outing, ‘From Russia With Love’.
The misstep of ‘Quantum of Solace’ was quickly forgotten by the sheer emotional force of ‘Skyfall’. Who will forget the tingle-moment when Bond takes M to his London lock-up (actually Deptford) and dramatically removes a tarpaulin to reveal the Aston Martin DB5; and the (strangely) moving moment of its demise in a hail of bullets; moving for Bond too, possibly only rivalled by the loss of his newly-wedded wife, Contessa Teresa ‘Tracy’ di Vicenzo, at the climax of ‘OHMSS’.
So, back to that acronym. SPECTRE casts a long shadow over Commander Bond’s world on the printed page, but the shadow stretches for even longer up on the big screen.
Now, the sequencing of the books and the movies differs wildly, so (as M would often mutter) pay attention. On the page: it’s not until that 9th novel ‘Thunderball’ (as outlined earlier, written in 1959) that SPECTRE masterminds the hijacking of two nuclear warheads, proceeding to hold the world to ransom for a tidy sum of $100,000,000 – not a bad start for an organisation that reads like an unholy mix of Mafia, Triad and Yakuza! SPECTRE are disbanded at the end of the novel, but fear not everyone knows that you can’t keep a good villainous organisation down for long.
Although only briefly referred to in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and not actually involved in the novel’s main plot, they’re back with a bang in the next two novels ‘OHMSS’ (planning germ warfare to ruin British agriculture) and, for the last time in print, in ‘You Only Live Twice’. The book sequencing has Bond recuperating in Japan after Tracy’s death. So no global domination in this one, 007 is simply out for revenge for the murder of his wife.
When it comes to the moving image though, SPECTRE have been there from the very beginning. Dr Julius No works for them in 007’s first celluloid outing in 1962’s ‘Dr. No’, planning to disrupt a manned space launch using a radio beam.
They’re back in the second film ‘From Russia With Love’ (1963) and they’re out for revenge (they didn’t take kindly to Julius’ demise at Bond’s hands) whilst also stealing a Lektor cryptographic device off the Russians. All that activity must have taken its toll. They are absent from ‘Goldfinger’ (1964), leaving Auric Goldfinger to contaminate the United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox.
The breather obviously helped, because SPECTRE are back with a vengeance for the next four movies. In ‘Thunderball’ (1965) they behave pretty much as per the original novel, hijacking warheads. For 1967’s ‘You Only Live Twice’, they’re swallowing spacecrafts in attempt to incite a war between the nuclear powers (all from that hollowed-out volcano, playing right into 007’s rubber-suckered hands and feet!).
The fifth release is relevant on a couple more levels too. It was the first time the producers moved away from the source novel, creating a completely new story – retaining only the location and a few of the characters. It was also, whilst filming in Japan, that Sean Connery announced he would be leaving the series.
For ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969), the producers retained more of the source novel. SPECTRE plan to sterilise the world’s food supply utilising a dozen, brainwashed ‘angels of death’. For a lot of true fans of 007 – I number amongst them – ‘OHMSS’ remains one of the best Bond movies.
In his only outing as the double-prefixed spy, George Lazenby does a more than fair job (my third favourite Bond – behind Connery and Craig) but, oh, to have seen Sean in the role for this one. If only to have seen his take on that emotional final scene.
The wait to see Sean again wasn’t a long one. Lured back with a lucrative offer (at the time a record-breaking $1.25m), Connery once again took up the mantel – this really was for the last time(2).
Sadly ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971) proves to be a poor epitaph for both Connery and SPECTRE. The plan to use diamonds to build a huge laser, taking out Washington DC in the process, is all fine and good – but the tone shifts alarmingly into a more camp approach, that would find a true home in the Roger Moore era.
Despite the first seven movies shifting in tone and style, SPECTRE remained a constant. Always up to no good and always ultimately to fail at the hands of 007, there was something about that name. It felt important (certainly to this impressionable teenager!). Their political neutrality I found intriguing (and all the more menacing); the assigning of a number to each member was a nice, cold touch; their fierce loyalty and violent internal retributions was, at times, quite alarming.
Who can forget the fate of Number 5 (Kronsteen) at the hands (or rather the foot!) of Morzeny’s poison-tipped shoe(3); and what about that nasty little bridge that dips alarmingly to let Number 11 (Helga Brandt) become a tasty treat for the piranhas swimming below(4).
It’s no surprise to me that once SPECTRE left the stage the Bond movies began that long, long spell of smaller and smaller thrills. The villains seemed more and more inconsequential. As both John McClane(5) and Jason Bourne proved more than capable of out-Bond-ing 007, it seemed that a nefarious, global organisation was no longer the order of the day.
So a long shadow indeed. A shadow that now, in 2015, (and after 44 years) finally steps out into the daylight.
The daylight of a new generation yet to meet this acronym, yet to meet this single-minded cartel of evil. Maybe this new generation will feel the same way I did when encountering SPECTRE for the first time. Fear and excitement. Who will emerge triumphant? It’s been a long time since the James Bond movies have stirred (and shaken) such feelings. Welcome back SPECTRE, I’ve been expecting you.
There is one very important name that I have deliberately not mentioned anywhere and, for now, I’m going to keep it that way. If, like me, you’re a true fan of 007 then I think you know that name. Let’s dare not utter it. Let’s hope, instead, that maybe on October 26th Eon Productions 24th edition of the greatest, longest running series in movie history offers up just one more surprise!
(1) rest assured on the shelf above sits a whole set of the earlier Pan paperback editions in their original chronological order!
(2) I’m discounting the instantly forgettable ‘Never Say Never Again’ as it wasn’t made by Eon Productions, but by an independent production company
(3) in ‘From Russia With Love’
(4) in ‘You Only Live Twice’
(5) in the Die Hard series